First Time Home Buyer – Builder Upgrades vs Upgrading on your own – an analysis

The biggest perk on purchasing a newly constructed home is the opportunity to acquire most upgrades at turnkey. Nearly all home builders offer value added packages that allows the home buyer to choose upgrades at additional cost. The snag though is that a first time home buyer may not be savvy enough to recognize the right upgrades that are the selling points of a house. As a first time home buyer, the tendency is to make a beeline for the standard setup in an attempt to buy the biggest plan affordable. There are many negatives to this approach:

Choosing from the upgrades offered by the builder is almost always cost-efficient compared to improving after handover – improvements after the house is tendered essentially translates to
  • Junking the standard offering thereby losing the entire value of the item,
  • Scoping the work involved,
  • Ironing out the permits required if any,
  • Labor costs associated with dismantling, cleanup, and re-installation,
  • Increasing carbon footprint.
  • Having to finance the improvement. When you choose upgrades from the builder, the cost gets added to the mortgage - this is a boon for many a cash strapped first time home buyer.
It is not everyone’s cup of tea to handle home improvements while occupying the same house as it inevitably involves
  • Personnel inside the house for a prolonged period of time.
  • Dust is a given and could be a deterrent for those with health problems.
Other problems with upgrading after handover include:
  • Renting while upgrading is a significant additional cost.
  • Some options such as adding recessed lighting where crawl space is limited could prove prohibitively expensive after handover as significant labor is involved to work around the limitations.
  • Even for peripheral items such as the garage, yard, and window furnishings involve hassles that can be bypassed by going with builder options.

We became a first time home buyer when we purchased a new home in Alameda in 2003. It had about 30K worth of upgrades. We realized almost immediately our upgrades were conservative at best: we should have added recessed lighting throughout, upgraded the stairways and the upstairs carpet to name a few. Ultimately, we decided to largely live with what we got, except for doing the yard and window dressings. When the house was in the market in early 2004, a similar house with nary an upgrade was also listed – we were pleased when our house sold first at a significant premium over the other house, thereby justifying the value of the upgrades.

Not everyone is on the quest for a brand new home and the condition of the houses generally reflects the market sentiment. In a buyer’s market, the owners usually do a makeover for the listing to standout and attract the interest of the buyer. In a seller’s market, seller motivation is non-existent and the houses sorely reflect that. Even homes cited as “ready-to-move-in” might require significant time and effort before it becomes “livable”, as personal tastes are unique and can be all over the map.

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Last Updated: 03/2012.

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